Sunday, August 31, 2014

Back to School For Ana

I mentioned in my last post that we had decided at the last minute to send Ana to the local Catholic School. After planning out a homeschool year that included her. And starting that homeschool year. 

What will follow is why, and also some pictures of the skirt I had to dig out of the storage closet at the school because her size skirt was on back order and I needed something for her in the meantime. Actually this is not a skirt, it WAS a jumper, for a little girl who wears a child's size 12. My daughter is nearly 13 and wears a women's size kinda different :)

(after removing the jumper part....lots of seam ripping!)

So basically on the first week of August we started homeschooling for the year. The first day started well. Breakfast was made ahead of time (I made muffins the night before) and everything was laid out nice. I planned a light academic day, mostly just going through the new schedule and procedures and introducing each curriculum. We took first day of school pictures. It was fun! Ana was excited and totally on board. 

(so then I had to sort out how to add several inches to the waistband without making it look too odd since shirts need to be tucked in at hiding the waistband behind a shirt edge!)

As the first few weeks of school wore on each assignment became a battle. Every bad day from last year (and last year had mostly good days to be sure but there were some bad ones too) came rushing back full force. There was stomping, and yelling, and crying, and angry words, and some of them were not just from the tween. Ahem. 

(Aha, I spotted where I can add in more width! The seam near where the zipper is attached! This is when I realized the beauty of pleated skirts...let out just 2 pleats and you've got yourself 8 extra inches. Like magic!)

See, every subject was TOO HARD. And WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME TO DO THIS. And I DON'T GET IT. And WELL, I CAN'T KNOW THE ANSWER IF YOU WON'T TELL ME. First grade religion...too hard. Calendar notebook made for early elementary...too hard. Literature questions from Memoria Press' First Grade Read-Aloud Program...too hard. Pre-test for vocabulary....too hard. I DON'T KNOW WHAT 'STRONG' MEANS. I DON'T KNOW WHAT 'PRETEND' MEANS. NOPE, I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THOSE WORDS BEFORE. EVER. 

It was the vocabulary test that broke this camel's back. That's when cool, collected, super-understanding-but-firm-mommy mode shut down. That's when I sent her to her room and did some stomping and yelling myself. 

(MAGIC! I ripped enough seam to expose the two pleats and stretched them out straight....BAM! 8 inches just like that!)

                                                     (Then I re-pleated just a bit so it was closer to 5 inches.)

And I realized some things. First, I realized that I could keep homeschooling Ana and I'm sure we'd sort something out. I'm sure we'd hit our stride eventually and she'd learn something and it'd be fine. I had the best curriculum. I know the curriculum I chose is at her level (despite her very tween-ish complaints) and I know that it was quality curriculum. But the second thing I realized made that not matter. I realized that if Ana learned nothing, absolutely nothing more, but knew that her parents loved her and thought the world of her and supported her no matter what then I could die and face God with that knowledge. But if Ana learned all the things and went to college and did all the things but felt her parents didn't think she was bright or neat or the best kid around then I just couldn't face God with that. That wouldn't be good enough. 

(Then I looked to the leftover jumper fabric to see if I could make the extra tab I'd need to add to the waistband. There was plenty of fabric thankfully)

After ranting and taking some time to clear my head Kyle and I talked and talked and talked. Then we started calling Catholic Schools. The local public school was out. They had done horribly by Ana last year, refusing to even provide her with a reading specialist when she was a 12 year old reading at a 1st grade level, and arguing that she no longer needed speech therapy when her vocabulary was "up" to age 6 equivalent from age 4 two years prior....and again she's 12. Not to mention the culture at the school, where all the 10 year olds were dating and had cell phones but almost none had married parents or clothes that fit. The Catholic Schools were our only option for this year really. Otherwise we'd have to wait and hope to move closer to Pittsburgh later where there's a fantastic school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

(I made a roughly 6" x 3" rectangle)

Luckily for us, after a bit of calling and weighing pros and cons we met with a school nearby and they were good. Very good actually. They didn't blink at Ana's needs and they didn't dismiss them either, they were sweet and friendly and they got right to sorting out a plan to get her as many services as possible. It's a decent sized school with 1-2 classrooms per grade, they have art and music weekly, mass every Friday, and she'll get speech therapy weekly in addition to 3x a week with a reading specialist and 1x a week with a math specialist. Her regular math class has just 13 kids in it, which is pretty awesome on its own. 

(I pressed the seams in and then in half to form the additional waistband part)

We were nervous but we enrolled her. And so far? It's been wonderful! Her teachers are so nice and helpful, the administration know her and watch out for her, and she's well cared for and supported there. Her music teacher wrote her the sweetest personal note the second day, praising her courage in trying out for choir on her very first day :) When she was upset about not understanding the writing process they were learning in English her teacher offered to tutor her before school next week until she gets it. We were astounded. Nobody else has ever taken such an interest in her truly understanding anything at school before. 

(See, here's the extra waistband all folded and ready to go with a bit of interfacing in the middle)

Ana loves her new school. She loves that her uniform means she can wear a skirt every single day. She's a bit disappointed about not being able to wear her chunky necklaces or big pink hair bows (but I'm secretly happy about that, haha!) And, being Ana, she already has four new friends already!

(I sewed the new flap onto the edge of the skirt all the way to the zipper. It fit perfectly and I overlapped the old and new waistband edges and did a quick stitch so it will stay together. Later when Ana got home I added a button to the edge)

It was weird at first to be home without her. Just me and the little kids again. It felt kind of sad, but as she comes home happy each day and I see how well she's cared about at school I'm feeling better about it. Kids like Ana, with her types of disabilities, are often described as being easy to love, hard to parent. And that's exactly how she is. Easy to love, but sometimes so hard to parent. It's nice to let someone else step in and help with that during the day; to get a break and be fresh and at my best when she gets home. 

Mostly, it's nice to take off the teacher hat and just be her mom. She needs a mom and dad more than anything. Anyone reasonably qualified can teach her but as far as parents go we're all she's got. 

(I let down the hem and hemmed it back up as tightly as I could so it would be long enough and it was all finished and it fit perfectly!)

At home I've been upping Tobias' work. He's in First Grade this year and it's time for some real writing and such. Plus I noticed his grammar knowledge is a bit lacking so I got a good grammar curriculum (Voyages in English) and we're working through that. He's happy and we're done with homeschool before noon every day. I'm also taking time out each day to work on teaching Peter more phonemic awareness (he has none which is a possible sign of dyslexia) and just his basic letter and number skills. Tahlia will also be getting some one-on-one time with me to work on her speech since she barely passed the early intervention assessment this week. Apparently her receptive language is just fine, average, but her expressive language is 20 on a scale where 100 is average. She has 7 words at 21 months, so definitely a bit behind there. 

(I even made two matching hair bows for her uniform. Only the one on the right is actually allowed unfortunately but at least she has that one since big bows are a big part of our typical hairstyles! What would I do with her beautiful curly hair without a well-placed bow to cover those elaborate braids I do?)

We're getting into the new rhythm and I don't expect it to be perfect but so far it's been everything we hoped for. Ana is being educated by great teachers, I'm getting to focus on being her mom (and talking her through the tween friend drama!), and I get more time during the day to focus on the little ones a bit. Everyone wins. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Simple Toddler Skirts for a Fall Wardrobe

August is almost over here and I'm looking forward to fall. The cooler weather seems to make me want to sew a lot, is anyone else like that?

I saw a pretty toddler dress based off an Anthropologie dress a while back and pinned it. Last week when the sewing bug hit I decided to tackle that and it came out okay. 

The back is a simple loop and button closure; I hate sewing actual button holes because I never seem to get it right. 

There is elastic around the waist with big gray buttons covering the places where I stitched the ends of the elastic. 

Tahlia approved of the dress, she even obligingly woke up at midnight after I finished it...I think she wanted to try it on ;)

Then I tried for another one and it came out okay. I was using up fabrics from my stash so I'm not as excited about the color but I think I got the waistband better on this one. Tahlia did not cooperate for photos, she had bigger jobs on her mind, like helping Daddy recycle the plastic grocery bags.

Yesterday I was mulling over Tahlia's fall wardrobe and how she was in need of more layering items that would work with the hand-me-down sweaters we were given for her awhile ago. Girls' clothes are do much more complicated than boys' clothing! With boys I buy jeans, dress pants, t-shirts, and button-down shirts. Add a couple sweaters and we're good to go! But I didn't want to give up on cute skirts for the fall for my baby girl!

But have you seen the price of a toddler skirt at the store? It's ridiculous! $18 for a tiny skirt? Um, no. 

So I bought $5 t-shirts at Target, brought them to Joann's to match fabrics and bought stuff to make 2 skirts for $6 total. These are just a rectangle of fabric + 1in elastic, super simple. They took about 15-20 minutes to make, including cutting and ironing. 1/3 yard of fabric ended up being perfect for Tahlia and she wears a 2T. If you're sewing a skirt for an older girl you can get 3/8 yard or 1/2 yard instead so it'll be long enough. 

Here's #1: 

(She loved the skirt, twirled in it and everything, she just looks grumpy here because Kaiden, the cat, wasn't letting her pick him up)

I even had fabric leftover to make a matching bow :) Here's the tutorial for how to make those, they are super easy and you can make a dozen for less than $5! 

So that's what I've been up to in my free time! I've also been altering a uniform skirt for Ana, who is now enrolled in the local Catholic School...I'll talk about that later while I show lots of pictures of my work on the skirt. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

2014-2015 Curriculum Choices

This year I have a 6th grader, 1st grader, preschooler, and toddler.

To recap: 

Our 6th grader, now going by her new chosen name of "Ana" (pronounced like the girl from Frozen...those of you who know how I feel about Frozen can feel free to laugh now) is being adopted this month *God-willing*. She is 12 and is hearing impaired and has other specific learning disabilities, likely including dyslexia, that we're hoping to uncover soon so we can figure out how best to help her learn. So that affects her curriculum choices.

Our 1st grader, Tobias, is 6 and extremely academic. He'll be working ahead in most subjects per usual. 

Our preschooler, Peter, turns 4 in November and so far doesn't even know his letters. This will be his first year being included in homeschooling because last year he begged for his own books. So to keep him from stealing big brother's math workbooks I'm getting him some stuff of his own :)

Our toddler, Tahlia, turns 2 in November, which basically means her entire purpose in life has become to make messes, climb on things, distract us, beg for food, and generally remind us that obviously she is far more important than silly things like multiplication tables.

So here is what we're doing this year:

Ana: Orton-Gillingham Reading and Spelling (last year we used Barton program, which I highly recommend but which is outside our budget this year). I'll be pulling from Barton's free online practice pages, Wilson Readers, the Solving Language Difficulties book, and Fran Bowman's O-G system

*I have a computer program that allows me to make my own handwriting worksheets*
Ana: cursive practice pages
Tobias: d'nealian practice pages

Ana: DynamoMaths, a computer-based remedial math program to help number sense in students, particularly those with dyscalculia. Then she will move on to Math Mammoth 2 or Math Mammoth 3, depending on how far DynamoMaths gets her.

ALL: Catholic Heritage Curricula's Explore the Continents and Map Skills B

ALL: Weekly Unit Studies covering volcanoes, weather, and habitats. We're mostly using the Let's Read and Find Out Science series of books and The Magic Schoolbus DVD's and science observation notebooks


I'm keeping everything for this year on one shelf in the homeschool room. Each child also has a binder for the current school year and a binder for their previous years' records. That's where I keep important things from previous school district portfolios, assessments, Ana's old school grades, etc.

If you want to check out what other homeschoolers are using for curriculum this year, check out the ihomeschool network's 6th Annual (Not) Back to School Blog Hop.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Catholic Kid Problems...

Apparently Tobias doesn't know what to do with himself when there are no babies in the house or on the way. Tahlia is 20 months so this is officially the longest we've ever gone without being pregnant since our marriage! Crazy! It kinda comes with the Irish Catholic territory I guess (not that I look Irish but I promise I am underneath my few but dominant Native American genes). As far as he knows we have a baby every other fall. But no baby this fall...

So he improvised and found his own baby sister(s). Yes, the baby sister needed a baby sister so he is carrying around two of Tahlia's dolls. Haha! At first he was just cuddling with one, not unusual around here with Tahlia doing that a lot, but then I caught him tossing one gently in the air and proclaiming 'you're so cute!' to it. It was so sweet. Since then the baby took a nap upstairs, had some milk, ate a pretend grilled cheese sandwich, and had it's picture taken. Aside from the grilled cheese that sounds about right :) 

He named the first one Rachel and the second Gracelyn. I think he got bored while Rachel was upstairs napping, hence him digging the second baby out of the toy basket and dubbing her Gracelyn, Rachel's little sister. Apparently he is the dad, Daisy is the mom, Peter and Tahlia are the big brother and sister, and Kyle and I are grandparents. Haha! I'm babysitting right now while he's outside wandering around with a big stick, very important little boy work! 

Oops, now he's moved on to riding his scooter with squirtgun in hand to protect the homestead...

It's so sweet to watch him, and I love seeing him be imaginative. This kid had no imagination for years but the older he gets the more it finally kicks in. Peter and Tahlia are both extra imaginative so they help I think. 

Because Tobias is smart a lot of people assume he'll be an engineer or a doctor or lawyer. But at six, as of right now, he wants to be a Daddy and grow flowers. 

And those sound like fine aspirations to us!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Homeschool Planning

It's my favorite time of year...lesson planning time! We are starting school this coming Monday and I'm frantically finishing last minute planning.

This is what it looks like around here...

I have all my necessary components for planning... my new planner (details about that and the 2014-2015 Catholic Planner later), laptop, Pinterest boards, curriculum instructor guides, binders, favorite pens, a coke, and of course a feline friend to supervise the proceedings.

I've had podcasts going regularly lately, everything from Sarah's Read Aloud Revival podcast to the ihomeschool network google hangouts and Susan Wise Bauer's audio recordings of her talks on Writing and Homeschooling the Real Child. Lots of great inspiration there! 

I've marked out our start date, end dates, and breaks. We'll be taking 2 weeks off at Christmas and 2 weeks off for Holy Week and Easter. I much prefer a couple real holiday breaks and to not have random Mondays or Fridays off throughout the year for minor holidays. I'm looking forward to use those minor holidays to study specific people and events, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Saint Patrick, etc. 

Now I'm finishing filling in the specific curriculum plans. The homeschool room is all set to go and even better than last year. I'll be sharing our curriculum choices and homeschool room in August along with the ihomeschool network's Back to Home School blog hop. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Urban Farming on a Cool Morning

I am LOVING this cool weather in the middle of July! My friends and neighbors are grumbling but secretly I'm praying it stays this cool all the way until autumn really starts! 

We spent this morning working hard outside, my favorite thing to do honestly. I should love to cook or something but I'm much happier outside chasing toddlers and chickens. I did a lot of both this morning :)

I went to feed and water the chickens but then I realized their coop was very dirty so I scooped out all the shavings and replaced them with fresh ones. I also sprayed out the nesting boxes since one had completely flooded. We're having a leaking issue in just this one spot in the coop, we'll have to sort that out before the fall rains begin in earnest. 

It's right here at this side door...

I'm pretty sure the door itself is the weak spot. On an unrelated note, this is how we've balanced having backyard chickens in the city. We keep the rake, scooper, and extra shavings here under the nesting boxes. That's why the door is so big. It's discreet, compact, and keeps everything handy since we don't have a garage or shed.

We keep the feed in a tin container on the porch. Again, discreet but out in the open where the kids can even refill the chicken's food themselves. 

Since I was on a roll I also raked out the run. We added sand once the grass was eaten down and that's been immensely cleaner. If you just rake it up once or twice a week it looks all clean and nice and chicken poop doesn't sit collecting flies. Raking it up let's everything compost nicely into the ground more quickly.

The hens hated it at first though, Oh my gosh! They clucked loudly to show their disapproval of our addition to their run and stayed inside the coop in protest for a full three days! It was the craziest thing I'd ever seen, the silly animals! But now they have no problem and thoroughly enjoy the dust bath potential in that corner by the ladder. 

I love our chickens, we were nervous that they'd be obnoxious or a lot of work but the whole family loves having them. Our neighbors tell us they like watching them and the local kids come over to see them almost daily. I'd say chickens are more work than a cat but less than a dog. Plus...eggs!

(The chocolate colored one is Raven's, the speckled one is Splash's. And Raven was clucking as I was cleaning the coop so I bet she's laid another by now. They like to proudly announce it when they've laid an egg)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The preschoolers have taken over...

Tahlia and Peter are better than a tv for entertainment. These two crack me up daily. 

Tahlia is such a girl. She has these little hidey holes all over the house where she'll gather her baby dolls and toys and sit for an hour contentedly. One of her favorites is to sit under the side table in the living room with her legs under the cross-beams, using them as a table. Sometimes she just uses the cross-beams as a seat. But she got very mad the other day when Tobias and Peter tried to crawl in there with her, haha!

Another of Tahlia's favorite places to play is in the cabinets. This weekend I heard lip smacking and sucking sounds so I went to go investigate...

She had discovered the brown sugar and was happily eating it..

When I found her she was totally remorseless, she clapped her hands and grinned at me as if to tell me all about this delicious powdered sweet stuff she discovered. She thought she was mighty clever...and I kind of agree. 

The day before that she and Peter played an interesting version of Trouble. And then it devolved into putting the pieces on their fingers and clacking them together. Hasn't everybody done this at some point? I know we did as kids too, haha!

And Peter is just being so.....Peter. There's no other word for it, everyone knows Peter is just himself. Sweet, goofy, right-brained, imaginative, athletic, and completely baffling. He also loves animals, like a lot. He only likes black animals...I think he may be racist ;) just kidding, but yes he really does have a distinct preference for black animals. When we got him a guinea pig last year for his birthday he desperately wanted a black guinea pig, only a black one. So we found one and he promptly named her 'Black' but the other kids didn't think that was a real name so they named her Jelly Bean. He insists her name is Black Jelly Bean, it even says so on her vet records :) When we replaced two of our lost hens we looked specifically for a black one for him. I wanted a pretty New Hampshire Red but we found his black Maran hen and her splash-colored Maran hen companion first. So now we have Raven and Splash.  Raven is his and he gets mad when the leghorns eat the grass he feeds them because he intended it to go to Raven. 

He also wants two black goats. Yeah, he belongs on a farm for sure!

Coincidentally our tuxedo cat Kaiden is our most kid-friendly. He lets kids do anything to him. Including, as Peter has recently discovered, pick him up around the stomach and carry him around. 

And Tahlia? Well she just likes to hang out with her baby dolls, or other people's baby dolls, whatever...

Never a dull moment, and now you have a glimpse of why I haven't had time for blogging this summer. But school is about to start and these kids are about to get back on schedule, no more climbing in bed with mom and dad at 6am, no more wandering the house seeking destruction or playing with toilet water when mommy's back is turned :) 

It's lesson planning time and organizing time, two of my favorite things! I have exciting plans for this school year and I'll be back, likely tomorrow, with a lesson planning post. I think I'll be participating in the ihomeschool network's Back To Home School blog hop too. Anyone else doing that? I love getting a peek at other people's curriculum choices and learning spaces!